The rhetoric leading up to today’s election has been filled with promises for change and brighter times ahead. While keeping optimism about the future is an important part of good mental health, many people must also deal with the stressful realities of an economic slowdown today. Trying to keep a balanced, healthy perspective about financial stressors is one key to avoiding long term mental health problems related to tough economic times. Just as with our national economic leaders, the idea is to avoid letting a downturn become a depression.
Isn’t it Normal to Be Anxious during Economic Recession? In a word, yes. Anxiety plays a critical role in helping us deal with all important problems. Remember that our anxiety functions, on its most basic level, as a warning system to alert us that a potential danger exists. However, the way we deal with anxiety can mean the difference between coping and panic. Most mental health experts agree that the best strategy during tough financial times is to use your anxiety to cope in a productive way, rather than becoming passive or reacting in a way that ultimately makes things worse.
Ask What Things Are In Your Control. One key factor in determining people’s reaction to any stressor, including financial stress, has to do with what psychologists call internal vs. external locus of control. People with an internal locus of control believe they have a large amount of control over their lives and their future. People with an external locus of control believe that their lives are largely determined by external events which they cannot change.
Like most challenges, coping with tough economic times requires a balance in terms of locus of control. It is important not to completely blame yourself if you lose a job or have trouble finding work. Part of this has to do with the big picture. On the other hand, it is important not to take the approach that “nothing I do will matter.” This basic approach greatly increases the chance that your worries will develop into a longstanding anxiety disorder or major depression.
Building Psychological Resilience: Over 75% of Americans stay they are stressed, with financial and money issues being the leading cause. Psychological research has identified several ways to best deal with this stress, to help people feel better and avoid letting stress turn into a more severe psychological problem. The idea is to build your resilience to stress.
Stay Connected: Good relationships help minimize the impact of almost all life stressors. Relationships come in many forms including family, friends, neighbors, and community groups. Helping others, as well as receiving help, is associated with good mental health.
Take Action Where You Can: If you are going through tough financial times, try to make a simple plan and then follow through. People who feel that they have done what they could are much more likely to avoid prolonged depression or anxiety.
Limit the Time You Spend with Media Coverage: One outgrowth of 24 hour news coverage is that we can spend large amounts of time listening to bad news. It is not helpful to most people to watch or listen to repeated reports of each stressful detail of the economy.
Avoid Coping Strategies Which Make Things Worse: Coping with your struggles by increasing alcohol or tobacco use, or excessive eating, will probably make things worse in the long run. Try to find other outlets for your stress.
Try not to Personalize: If you have lost your job or are having other financial trouble, try not to take the perspective that this is all about your job skills or personality. Without minimizing the emotional impact of job difficulties, remember the bigger picture.
Don’t be afraid to Seek Professional Help: It may seem like a difficult time to add one more appointment or expense during times of financial hardship. However, many people feel better after only a few sessions of psychotherapy. Making sure that short term anxiety or depression don’t become debilitating may be worth it in the long run.